A Diploma May Land You A Job, But It Won’t Guarantee Your Success

Obviously, I am a big supporter of the skilled trades as a career path. It is the path I have chosen, even after I spent four years getting a bachelor’s degree in General Business Management.

My college education did get me a job working for a fortune 500 company, making around $42k/year. This is somewhere around the average income for the U.S. But in order to achieve the level of wealth I'm looking for, this wasn’t going to cut it.

It wasn’t until I went back to my skilled trade (the one I had left after graduating from college) that I found my financial success and personal fulfillment.

Do we need a degree?

Somehow, as a society, we have decided that the ONLY path to success is to go to college. We have pushed the younger generations towards college as the only option for a successful life.

We have convinced ourselves that spending four years and tens of thousands of dollars on a college degree is better than spending four years learning a specific skill.

The problem is that the college degrees that much of my generation spent four (plus) years and 30 (something) thousand dollars acquiring don’t prove you have the skill to excel at much of anything–besides finishing what you started.

Of course, some professions require a specific education in order to pass the tests required to participate in that field. For example; lawyer, doctor, accountant, etc. I’m focusing on the millions of students that get a bachelor’s degree that sounds fun or is easy.

The degree our parents and society told us we must get or we will not succeed is the ultimate doppelganger. It looks like it will make us successful. But it doesn't guarantee the success adults are promising their teenagers.

What should be considered a necessity is constant continued education, whether that be at college, a trade school, or apprenticeship. And what do you do when you’re done with that? You continue to learn and grow in that particular field and in every facet of life.


“Once you stop learning, you start dying” – Albert Einstein


Why do we go to college?

I believe there are a few reasons we go to college. We go to learn work-related skills, build a network, and grow personally and intellectually. Well, I believe those skills can be achieved while learning a trade and skipping out on the frat parties and late-night dorm room kickbacks.

  1. Work-related skills–In the real world, learning work-related skills looks a lot like actually working because, well, it is. Yes, actually working in a trade, apprenticeship, or internship, is a better way to learn work-related skills than to sit in a classroom and listen to a teacher. Perfecting skills in real world scenarios for four years will be much more effective than learning a lot of stuff that won’t apply to your particular career choice.
  2. Building a network–There are a lot of relationships that can form in college. We can meet friends, significant others (I met my wife in college ?), and maybe even some future business connections. Although college may help build a network, I believe networking within your own industry will get you much further along the path of success. Spending more time working in an industry instead of sitting in a classroom is more conducive to building a long-lasting and powerful network.
  3. Growing personally and intellectually–I will go into more depth on this in another post, but I believe someone that is committed to growth can do a better job educating themselves than to go to a lecture hall for ten hours per week. The amount of free resources on the internet is astounding, from learning languages to legit MIT courses. Combine that with reading books about your industry, business, money, psychology, etc. I think a greater overall education can be achieved with the self-taught method while working full time.

Where did I learn more? College or the real world?

In 2008-09, I was working in a skilled trade job (paintless dent repair) while I was going to college. After college, I set out for the white-collar, college educated work. After years of struggling and not finding satisfaction in my sales jobs, I made my way back to dent repair.

With a new-found passion for using my hands and body instead of my phone and pen, I set out to make this work. While continuing to learn my skill, I consumed audio books and podcasts at a ridiculous rate.

I listened to podcasts about my specific industry, Tim Ferriss Podcast, Impact Theory, BiggerPockets, Freakonomics, Jocko Podcast, Ted talks and so many others. I also consumed financial podcasts such as radical personal finance, Money for the rest of us, Mad Fientist, and of course our beloved ChooseFI Radio Podcast.

Over the last two years, I have listened to over 70 books on Audible. The amount that can be learned from a single audiobook for $10-15 is impressive when compared to an expensive college course.

Because of my consumption of great and worthy content, I believe that my years after college were more educational than my years spent in the classroom. This may be anecdotal, but I have a feeling it isn’t.

Was it worth it?

I believe I could have been in a better position in life had I skipped the college education (except for meeting my wife of course). That time could have been used to continue learning my trade.

I do have a degree in General Business Management. However, I have learned more about business, sales, finance, and dealing with people from listening to books, podcasts, and working in the real world than from my classroom education.

Where we have succeeded as a society is that we have decided that continued education is important for young people and for our society as a whole.

Where we have failed as a society is that we have determined that college is the only option for continued education. We have simultaneously made college more expensive, given out insanely high loans to teenagers, degraded the skilled trades, and created laws that hurt apprenticeship.

By all means, get your college education, but please be smart about the degree you choose. Be aware of how much of your future earnings you are willing to bet on this four-year education. Do not expect to be successful in life just because you got a bachelor’s degree in business management.

Do you think college is necessary for everyone? Why or why not?

A Diploma May Land You A Job, But It Won’t Guarantee Your Success


Overcoming Negative Money Beliefs To Start On The FI Path

As a child I was constantly exposed to negative money sayings. I still remember that saying “Money doesn't grow on trees” from my childhood. It was used to argue against buying an item. In the end I had built a framework in my mind, that money is not inherently bad, but scarce. That is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I had created my own world where money was constantly tight. That was just the way of life. I learned to constantly want more money. And yet, when I had money, I'd immediately spend it. Keeping me in constant need for more.

But on the other hand: To have money is something negative, something to hide. It's commonly believed that money causes people to do horrible things. However, money is just an amplifier of a person's character. Being in possession of a lot of money doesn't turn someone evil. It simply allows them to be themselves on a larger scale.

Ms Fi-ology also had to change her mindset while on the path to FI

The gentle nudge of awakening

I had a need to spend all my money. I realize now, I did this to avoid being an evil rich person, and to keep me in my comfortable state of financial strain. By December of 2015 I could no longer stand it. My apartment was overflowing with stuff. The energy in the two rooms was thick and numbing. I felt lethargic and heavy. And I knew that I had to change something. Do you know that feeling, when you just can’t take something anymore? That for me is the best point to start implementing changes!

This decluttering also started other processes. Some people report that the decluttering also facilitated weight loss. For me it was my finances. I finally came to the conclusion that I had to get a grip on my finances.

From here, things moved fast: I found Mr. Money Mustache and binge read his whole blog in a few short weeks. Then I went to the Financial Independence conference in Chautuaqua. This was a complete turning point for me. During the conference, I was able to relax for the first time in months and finally put all the puzzle pieces together and start towards the future I want to have.

Having such a clear and strong view of how I want in live, and having a blueprint to get me through stressful days at work have helped me tremendously.

As I write this, I'm sitting here, looking forward to the next ChooseFI episode–which I also found during the Chautauqua! And even though I am only a few years into my journey, I feel a calmness I did not have before.

Related: Is It Too Late to Start My FI Journey?

By becoming one of the ChooseFI blog authors I want to give something back to the community that helped me so much.

Want to read more from Ms Maxi? Check out her other articles here.

Overcoming Negative Money Beliefs To Start On The FI Path

Planning For Healthcare In Early Retirement

Planning For Healthcare In Early Retirement

If there’s a fly in the early retirement ointment–other than accumulating the portfolio needed to make it happen–it’s planning for healthcare. While you’re an employee, you can take advantage of employer-sponsored health insurance. Since it’s a group plan, and usually subsidized by the employer, it’s less expensive than coverage you can buy on your own. But how do you plan for healthcare in early retirement?

And that’s the problem. When you retire early, you probably won’t have the benefit of employer health insurance. And since you’ll be younger than 65, it’ll be too early to qualify for Medicare.

If you’re already in early retirement, you know all about this issue, and you’ve hopefully found a solution. But if you haven’t, or if you’re only in the early retirement planning phase, we’ll help you learn the options available.

If you're already in early retirement, or planning to be soon, here are some strategies you can use to deal with healthcare.

Enroll for coverage with your state health insurance exchange

Since the arrival of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), health insurance is guaranteed regardless of your age or health condition. In fact, even if you have one or more health conditions, your premium cannot be increased as a result. The only premium adjustments possible are due to smoking and age.

This is a big advantage for early retirees

Not only are you guaranteed health insurance coverage, but you might even qualify for a subsidy due to low income. And if you’re retired, that could be you. The IRS even offers a Premium Tax Credit Estimator to give you an idea how much the subsidy will be, based on your income level in state of residence.

You can check out the cost of ACA plans by going to the Healthcare.Gov’s health insurance plans and prices webpage. There you can find specific insurance plans available for you and your family, in your state.

There’s one caveat to getting health insurance on the exchange, and that’s cost. If you’ve never had private health insurance before, get ready for some serious sticker shock!

Also, under the new Trump tax plan, the individual health insurance tax penalty is still in effect for 2018, but will disappear from 2019 forward.

(Important disclaimer on the new tax bill: The plan is still only a few weeks old, and we’re early in the new year. As is usually the case with major tax changes, revisions are always possible. They can be either slight, or complete changes. We’re just giving the information based on current published sources. As of this writing, the IRS has yet to formalize the changes with new regulations.)

Alternate health insurance sources

Let’s say you can’t afford coverage on the exchange–are there any options?

Yes. Try one of these:

Go on your spouse’s health insurance plan

My guess is if you’re going to retire early, your spouse will as well. But in the unlikely event that isn’t the case, and your spouse has coverage at work, problem solved.

Have a side hustle

There are two basic benefits to the side hustle concept:

  1. You’ll have a dedicated income to pay the (high and ever-rising) cost of health insurance, and
  2. There are generous tax breaks for the arrangement.

Number one is obvious, but let’s camp out on the second point. The IRS allows you to deduct the cost of health insurance premiums if you are self-employed (even under the new tax plan). You can deduct 100% of the premium paid up to the amount of net income earned from self-employment. That includes coverage for yourself, your spouse and any dependents you have.

If your health insurance premium is $12,000, and you have $15,000 in net income from self-employment, health insurance will be fully deductible. If you earn $10,000 in net income, then only $10,000 in premiums paid will be deductible. This deduction applies only to income from self-employment, and not from W2 or investment earnings.

Health Savings Accounts (HSA)

You can also take a deduction for an HSA. For 2018, you can contribute up to $3,450 if you’re single, and up to $6,900 for a family. The contribution is fully tax-deductible, and can be used to pay for out-of-pocket costs, such as copayments, deductibles, and uncovered medical expenses.

Combining self-employed health insurance with an HSA enables you to deduct the cost of both without the need to itemize deductions. You will need a sufficient amount self-employed income to cover both the premiums and the HSA.

The new tax law leaves the HSA deduction in place.

Get a part-time job with health insurance

This strategy kind of defeats the whole purpose of early retirement, especially since you’ll be working for someone else. But it’s a viable strategy nonetheless.

There are more part-time jobs with health insurance than most people realize. You can often qualify working as few as 20 hours per week. Potential employers offering health insurance for part-timers include banks, credit unions, local governments, colleges, airlines, coffee shops, grocery stores and retailers.

If nothing else, the part-time route may become desirable on a short-term basis, if one of the other strategies doesn’t work.

Healthcare Sharing Ministries

These plans are growing in popularity, in part because they’re much less expensive than traditional health insurance, but also because they are “ACA compliant”. (That means you aren’t subject to the ACA penalty if you have one of these plans.)

They’re exactly what the name implies, a plan in which many people participate, and share expenses. The major benefit is cost. The monthly payment may be only a fraction of what it will cost for traditional health insurance.

These plans are not perfect, nor are they suitable for everyone

For example, most are oriented toward Christians. They require that you're a member of an acceptable church, and often that you take a pledge to live a life that’s consistent with Biblical principles.

Another problem is that they are not true insurance. The plans pool money, and while most expenses are fully paid, there’s no guarantee. (Of course, there’s never a guarantee of coverage with traditional insurance either.) They may cap coverage at $250,000, or $500,000, which isn’t a high enough threshold that couldn’t be breached in today’s cost environment.

But perhaps the biggest limitation is that you can be excluded for pre-existing conditions

The plans generally favor the healthy. If you had a bout with cancer a year ago, or you have a chronic health condition, like heart disease or diabetes, you may not be eligible for coverage.

If you’re interested in pursuing this alternative, there are several healthcare sharing ministries available. Since this isn’t an industry in the traditional sense, plans can vary widely from one to another.

Going the passive route on healthcare strategies for early retirement

If none of the above strategies appeal to you, you can go the more traditional route of fully retiring, and paying your health insurance and out-of-pocket costs in full–taking the chance that they may or may not be tax-deductible.

Unfortunately, the new tax plan isn’t medical expense-friendly. Unless you have an exorbitant amount of medical expenses in comparison to your taxable income, you probably won’t be able to claim them as an itemized deduction.

For starters, the new tax plan does away with personal exemptions, and raises the standard deduction

For 2017, the standard deduction is $6,350 for singles, and $12,700 for couples. From 2018 on, it’s increased to $12,000 for singles, and $24,000 for couples, theoretically including the personal exemption(s). You have to have a lot of medical expenses to be eligible to deduct them with those limits.

But it gets worse.

Under current tax law, you’re only allowed to deduct medical expenses–health insurance and out-of-pocket costs–to the degree that they exceed 10% of your adjusted gross income. For 2018 only, that percentage will fall to 7.5%, and then go back to 10% going forward.

Let’s work a scenario…

You and your spouse have $50,000 in retirement income. You incur $15,000 in health insurance and out-of-pocket medical costs in 2018. Under the new tax law, you must first deduct 7.5% of your adjusted gross income, which is $3,750. That leaves you $11,250 in potentially deductible medical costs.

But since you automatically get a $24,000 standard deduction, you won’t be able to deduct $11,250 in medical expenses, unless you have other tax deductions that bring you over the $24,000 threshold.

Let’s say that those expenses, including medical costs, come to $30,000. That means that on a net basis, only $6,000 of your medical costs will actually be deductible. (The rest would have been deductible even if you didn’t itemize.) The balance of $5,250 will be lost, as will the $3,750 that had to first be deducted due to the 7.5% income limitation. A total of $9,000 in medical expenses won’t be tax deductible.

And of the $6,000 that will be, and a marginal tax rate of just 12%, the net tax savings will be just $720. That’s a drop in the bucket on $15,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.

Moral of the story: Itemizing medical expenses may not help much in early retirement.

Under the new tax law, planning for healthcare in early retirement isn’t necessarily better or worse than it used to be. But it does require having an effective strategy in place to minimize the cost.

Planning for healthcare in early retirement

064 | Chautauqua | Oh The Places We Will Go

064 Chautauqua founders

Chautauqua organizers join us on a call to share what the Chautauqua event is about, the great community that attends, and plans for the future.

On today’s show we cover:

  • A call with 6 different Chautauqua organizers from around the world
  • How Chautauqua got started
  • The single coolest thing about the event
  • The perspective from Carl’s first Chautauqua
  • The structure behind the event
  • Why people make lifelong friends
  • The benefits of 1 on 1 conversations
  • How Chautauqua is really all about the community experience
  • What a regular day at Chautauqua looks like
  • What brought Alan from participant to organizer
  • The initial feelings of organizing the event
  • How Chautauqua is different from other events
  • How the event brings together so much creativity and skill sets

Links from the show:


Thank you for being a part of the ChooseFI community!  ? If you want to support us, here are some easy ways:

1) Leave an iTunes review: http://www.choosefi.com/itunes

2) Use our page to sign up for travel credit cards

Note: We may receive a commission if you are approved for cards on this page

3) Most importantly, find your friends, coworkers, and family members who may be open to this message and tell them about the podcast! (Episode 21 is a great starting place)

As Jonathan would say, “The FIRE is spreading my friends!”

Vitamin FI–Cures All Your Financial Anxiety

Shortness of breath, chest pain, numbness or tingling, nausea and cramping. These aren't just a list of symptoms on the latest drug infomercial. These are also the symptoms of logging into your online bank account.

This is likely how you feel when that credit card statement arrives, or when you check the remaining balance on your student loan debt.

So what do you do when financial anxiety hits?

Check with your FI clinician

Personal finances can contribute to these symptoms, and the mass media lends a hand in increasing our anxiety levels. The headlines are all over the interwebs. “57% of Americans have less than a 1,000 dollars in savings.” “Are we heading towards a Great Depression?” Ignore these headlines!

In fact, we should probably avoid most anxiety producing sources. Stop and take back control of your finances. The FI doctor assess this emergency and says “take the red pill.” The only side effects are a better financial future.

What is this wonderful drug that is going to make my finances great again? Big shocker, there is not a drug to fix your finances; it’s you.

No one cares about your finances more than you, so empower yourself and take action. My inner convictions, led me to believe that I was on the right path. A path that would bring me happiness, but the opposite was true. I needed something to jolt me in the right direction, something stronger than a drug. I needed a cardioversion, or an electrical reset, for my finances.  

In the past, I frequently dabbled in the popular MSN and Yahoo personal finance articles. Clark Howard's newest savings tip or hack seemed to draw my attention, but I felt there was something lacking. Like many of my FI peers, I finally stumbled across a little website in early 2014 called Mr. Money Mustache. This was the electricity I needed to change my life.

Let me help you through your emergency

I am CodeblueFI. A 35-year-old registered nurse who has approximately 10 years till Financial Independence.

Nurses aspire to help people lead healthier lives. Nurses are taught to treat the whole patient. A solid financial foundation is an unambiguous path to a happier, healthier, more productive existence.

That is why I want to share my personal stories. In the hope that I can encourage and inspire my fellow humans to lead happier, healthier, more meaningful lives. It can be called an awaking, a cardioversion, a FI180, but it epitomizes the change many of us experience as we make our u-turn down the path to FI.

Choose right

ChooseFI has one of the best platforms to educate those who desire a brighter financial future. As John C Maxwell states, “Doing the right thing daily compounds over time.” Every week we have a new podcast episode where we can learn just a little bit more about making ourselves better.  ChooseFI Facebook group continues to be a life sustaining library of information in which members inject their personal experiences to encourage our peers one question or life hack at a time. 

Please choose the ‘red pill', the pill that doesn't have all those nasty side effects. The drug that shocks us to a path that leads you and me to that happier, healthier, more fulling existence. 

Whether you have a debt emergency, or are just starting to check off the pillars of FI.  Maybe you hit that FI number this year, or maybe you are struggling to get that Why of FI under your belt. Whatever road you have traveled, I invite you to come along with me as we explore my ups and downs, my fails and my wins.

Here are a few topics forecasting the subject matter I'll explore.

  • Financial Independence with a stay-at-home wife and four kids

There are numerous topics here to discuss including: Side hustles, kid activities, food budgets, school activities, costs of kids, and plenty more.

Raising chickens, goats, and pigs is one of my hobbies that brings me joy. Teaching my kids how to raise these wonderful creatures for food and fun can be a wonderful educational experience. Gardening and growing lots of our own food takes hard work and brings some wonderful health benefits.

Related: Why This Homesteading Property is Perfect For Us

  • Financial Independence as a RN

I want to write about how to increase your salary, hack your RN degree, RN travel, hack your way to the middle class, volunteering, and many of the other nuances that nursing and other healthcare professions can bring in regards to finances.  

  • Passion projects

This section will include things that are important to me, such as self-education.  I may write about a post I saw on social media, or a book I just read, or a topic that caught my attention at work.  It may reveal personal numbers, goals, and things I am doing or changing financially.  

Thank you for following along with me on my journey, and I look forward to learning together.  

063R | Create Your Own Luck

063R Create your own luck (1)

A recap of Monday’s discussion with Scott Trench, how to create luck and find opportunities, and some of Brad’s life lessons dedicated to his daughters.

On today’s show we cover:

  • Discussion of Monday’s episode
  • Why luck is an intersection of preparation and opportunity
  • How Scott seized opportunities
  • Why having a plan makes it easier to follow through
  • The importance of having high expectations of life
  • How the FI community is never willing to settle
  • Why one should lean into discomfort and learn to take action
  • How the local ChooseFI groups could potentially become masterminds
  • What creating luck looks like for Brad
  • Why success comes from joining communities and always being willing to learn
  • Brad’s life lessons dedicated to his daughters
  • Book giveaway and iTunes review

Links from the show:


Thank you for being a part of the ChooseFI community!  ? If you want to support us, here are some easy ways:

1) Leave an iTunes review: http://www.choosefi.com/itunes

2) Use our page to sign up for travel credit cards

Note: We may receive a commission if you are approved for cards on this page

3) Most importantly, find your friends, coworkers, and family members who may be open to this message and tell them about the podcast! (Episode 21 is a great starting place)

As Jonathan would say, “The FIRE is spreading my friends!”

When You Eat Matters

When You Eat Matters

You've probably heard a lot of conflicting advice out there about when you should eat. I've heard everything from eating five small meals a day to eating one large meal to fasting for days. The key is understanding how the body works, and using that information to your advantage. The good news is–this is fairly simple.

Getting out of storage mode

When you eat, your insulin levels rise. Certain foods make your insulin levels rise more than others, but all food causes some increase in insulin levels.

Snacking, or eating small frequent meals all day, causes your insulin levels to stay high constantly–keeping your body in storage mode all day long. This is not the place we want to be for optimum health. If you keep a food journal, see how your eating patterns compare. How often are you in storage mode?

Does your food journal show something like this?

Certain foods cause a larger insulin spike than others. Carbohydrates cause a high insulin spike, protein a moderate spike, and fat causes only a minimal rise in insulin levels.

Effect of carbohydrates, protein, and fat on insulin levels

Armed with this knowledge, we can start to think differently about how we eat. FI is all about thinking differently than most other people, and doing things just a little bit smarter. I am going to offer you an alternative way of looking at food and health that is different than most of the advice you hear. In the same way that the FIRE is spreading, this concept has been so successful that it is quickly spreading as well.

When you eat is likely the most important factor in weight loss

Looking at the table above, you can see that you need to minimize the amount of time your body is in storage mode. For optimal body health and weight maintenance, you want to have a balance between being in storage mode, and being in fat burning mode. If you are always storing your calories, you will end up gaining weight. Therefore, the first step in optimizing your eating plan is to drop down to eating only three meals per day.

This will give your body time between meals for your insulin level to lower and will decrease how many calories you are storing throughout the day. You want your insulin levels to look like the following:

Notice that eating only 3 meals per day gets you out of storage mode more often

This means do not snack at all between your meals. This includes any drinks besides water, tea, black coffee, or unsweetened carbonated water. Don't drink diet sodas between meals either.

Some of you may be thinking this is crazy, and you will never make it to lunch time without a snack. The trick is to make sure you're eating enough fat with your meal to keep you full until the next meal. After years of being told fat was the enemy, this was the biggest hurdle for me.

Here's how you do it: Whatever you currently eat for breakfast, add some healthy fat to it. Some of the most common ways to do this is by adding a handful of nuts, nut butter, avocado, or bacon. If you currently eat only egg whites, start eating the whole egg. Remember that fat does not make you fat–high levels of insulin telling your body to store glucose as fat is what adds on the pounds.

Looking at the chart above, eating fat is actually the least fattening food for your body. Fat will also make you feel full. It sends a powerful message to the brain that you're sufficiently nourished. You will have a nice full feeling in your stomach that you cannot get with traditional low fat foods, and this should carry you through until lunch time.

Changing your breakfast so you don't get hungry

Add some nuts to your breakfast

The first day I tried this, I started by eating my traditional oatmeal, but added macadamia nuts and some unsweetened flaked coconut to it. I was slightly horrified by the number of calories on the packages of the nuts and coconut, but I decided I would believe in the model and just go for it.

My oatmeal had never tasted so good! That day I had no hunger pains, and was almost surprised when I realized it was 1 pm and I hadn’t eaten lunch. 

Try to eat more avocados – they fill you up!

Lunch tastes good again

After getting some confidence with breakfast, I moved on to tackling my lunch. I used to eat a salad with veggies, egg whites, and low fat dressing. It wasn’t at all satisfying, but I thought it was healthy. This pretty much explains why I was starving by 3 pm.

I started adding to my salad an avocado (1/2 – 1 depending on the size), a whole hard boiled egg, and full fat dressing. My salad was completely transformed. It was satisfying and I wasn't hungry again until early evening.

I actually looked forward to eating lunch now rather than trying to make do with rabbit food.

Build your confidence

Add some healthy fats to your meals and skip the snacks and sodas and your overall calorie consumption won't change much. Your meals will be far tastier, and you'll feel better throughout the day.

Remember though, calorie counting is not necessary. Not all calories have the same effect on your body. Focus on increasing your fat intake, and slowly decreasing your sugar intake.

I did this slowly. Even though I believed in the science–it had been ingrained into every fiber of my being that fat was the enemy. Taking baby steps to make sure I wouldn’t immediately gain 5 lbs, I was pleasantly surprised to find just the opposite.

Within one month I had lost 8 lbs–doing nothing more than adding in fat and cutting out snacking. It was the easiest weight I had ever lost, and I did not feel deprived at all. My energy started improving, and I spent far less money on food (packaged snacks and sodas can be expensive!)

Give this a try for yourself. Start with small changes and work your way up from there. Continue your simple food journal, and notice how decreasing the frequency of your eating changes your weight.

When You Eat Matters

Pursuing FI From The Other Side Of The World

Holy crap. What the heck am I doing?

I was having a slight freak out moment. Actually, it wasn't slight, and my internal monologue was a little more colorful than “crap” and “heck”. It was August 28, 2008, and I just landed at Incheon International Airport. Looking out the window of the plane, I couldn't understand any of the building signs. I was 26 and seemingly ruining my resume by moving to Korea to teach preschool kids how to speak English.

This wasn’t the career path I had been following.

I’d had a job since I was 13, passing papers and working at a garden center before I could drive. I had a newish Jeep and a nice apartment, decked out with new furniture, new kitchen appliances, new work wardrobe. And I was going to all the functions and events around town that the other young professionals were attending.

But I was miserable.

I was bored out of my mind. And just couldn’t seem to keep up with the sales quotas that my boss had for me. I was upside down on a car, in an apartment that I couldn’t really afford. I had student loans and was starting to build credit card debt because I didn’t quite know how to manage the unstable income of a commission based job. To top it off, the day after I quit my job to move to Korea, my boss told me he’d “fire me” if I didn’t sign a non-compete agreement, pretty much closing all doors for me if it didn’t go well in Korea.

None of this is what I had dreamed of when I left my parent's home to take on the world. I'd later realize that all my new coworkers in Korea were three to five years younger than me, doing a gap year and traveling the world before starting “real life”. It was a pretty depressing place to be, but I was hopeful for what was to come. 

All I had were two suitcases, a carry-on and an overloaded backpack.

I had to decide what was important enough to take to the other side of the world with me. I sold my car and still owed money on it. Everything else got sold, given away, or put into storage. About a year later, I would even be sorting through that and throwing most of it away because my storage unit leaked, leaving a wet mildewed mess. 

On the bright side, getting rid of all that junk ended up being one of the most freeing things I'd done. I had no furniture to upkeep, no yard to mow, no car to maintain. My new apartment in Korea was tiny, so cleaning took about 15-20 minutes on Saturday morning. Now I had lots of time to explore my new neighborhood! 

Getting out of debt and living it up in Korea

I spent about five years getting myself out of debt. It really wasn't that challenging though. The school I taught at provided my housing and a free lunch every day. I walked about 20 minutes each way to get to work. So, if I put about $10/week on my bus card, that covered my other transportation. Healthcare in Korea is amazing so no worries there. In fact, I only really needed half of my pay check each month to cover my lifestyle. And I use the word “needed” loosely as my weekends were packed meeting new friends, going out to eat and seeing the country. The other half went to paying off debts. 

Discovering financial independence and the world of passive income

After getting everything paid off, I came home to the states for a few months in 2013, and happened to attend a seminar on real estate. I went with a buddy, spent two days learning about how to make money in rental properties. I had always been interested in real estate and passive income. I'd read Rich Dad Poor Dad and The 4-Hour Workweek. But this time, something clicked differently with me. 

My wife-to-be was across the country doing an internship at the time. When she was up for a visit one weekend, I took her to the seminar and we were both hooked! We got married in August 2014 and started life together with next to nothing in the bank. But, we were driving hard to purchase our first house. I spent the next year and a half listening to podcasts, reading books and blogs, attending meet-up groups and online seminars, determined to be an expert in real estate investing.

The most productive sick day ever

One day in December 2015, I stayed home sick from work, which I rarely do. I knew we were close to being able to finally purchase an investment property and I didn't want to be totally unproductive for the day. So, I began emailing and calling the turnkey company I had planned on using. We realized that we had actually saved enough to buy two! So, within a couple of weeks, we had actually closed on our first and second investment properties. 

We still own those properties today and we're saving up for a third property. It's been a little longer than expected to get into another one, but we've taken the time to get our finances in a more stable place at home. 

Discovering that life begins before FI

We dream of being financially independent, and we're on that path. But, we make a little less money than is ideal for the path of early retirement and financial independence. If we waited to “live life” until we reach our FI number, then we'd live a very frustrating life until then. So, we've taken steps to live a fulfilling and purposeful life. I've quit my higher (not high, but higher) paying job teaching English full time to a part time position at a non-profit. While I did enjoy teaching pre-school, it was starting to become routine and I hate routine. 

My wife (Mrs. Seoul) also quit her job last year to pursue one of her dreams and started her own business selling her art online. I still teach English about 10 hours/week to make sure the bills are paid. We're also continuing to add to our investments and maintain our investment properties. But, other than that, we're pretty much living the life we plan to live after reaching FI. We've drastically cut our expenses and lifestyle in the past couple of years. We look forward to life after FI, but living a life of purpose and intention is proving to be quite fulfilling. 

Why I Pursue Financial Independence

This probably makes me weird, but I was thinking about retiring before I ever got my first real full-time job.

I went through college during the healthy economic times of the late 90s. Everything was great! Employers flocked to job fairs to hire young talent. Signing bonuses were commonplace. And a bachelor’s degree–oh yes–this was the ticket to landing a good paying job. As I neared graduation, the promise of gainful employment was inevitable and intoxicating!

Until it wasn’t.

Just months before graduating in 2002, rumors and media reports of a tough job market circulated, and those once busy job fairs became more scarce and more competitive. And there I was–graduating into the start of a receding job market.

At home, my dad was laid off in his mid-50s after 25 years as a white collar mechanical engineer—a job he really enjoyed. It was dad and daughter job searching together.

Enter the original retire early light bulb moment

Job searching alongside my dad at that time in his life gave me my original early retirement light bulb moment: I’ll be damned if I’m still stuck in the rat race in my mid 50s!

After we fought over space in front of the bathroom mirror getting dressed up for our interviews, I watched my dad go on interview after interview for jobs he wasn’t excited about. And he had little to show for them in terms of offers. Let’s face it–he was at a tough stage of life for a job search, especially in a slow job market. And while it paid fine and was in his field, he ended up having to take a stressful position at an automotive plant. On contract. On third shift. With the longest commute of his life.

From experiencing job search woes right along with my dad, I knew the minute I could start saving for retirement, I would. When I landed my modest first salaried job a few months later, I did just that. My username for my account? [email protected] I was going to be bold and retire in my 50s!

The more recent retire early pivot

Consuming all the standard financial advice, I gathered that saving 10% of your salary would put you in decent shape for retirement. But since I wanted to get out of the rate race a little early, I bumped my percentage to 15% and considered that pretty fantastic.

With a frugal upbringing, I kept my major expenses like housing low, and I avoided credit card debt. Again, all great stuff.

Here I was, with a fantastic husband, a couple of kids, and a ranch in the suburbs. But I also had a demanding job in the city, and over the years I increasingly felt, well, less enthused about another 20 years in the workforce. It just seemed so long.

I legitimately like my career field. But I’d sure like it more if it wasn’t required to have my butt in an office chair 40 hours a week. Simply put, I wanted to reclaim more of my life. I thought it was impossible to jump off the hamster wheel before I had a full head of grey hair, until I stumbled upon the Mad Fientist podcast in early 2017.

I listened to his explanation of buying your freedom at any age: Amassing enough money that your investments could fund your lifestyle indefinitely. Working would then be a choice, not a necessity. Your time would be yours once again. Financial independence! Mind. Blown. Hell. Yes.

An accelerated FI journey

Buying my freedom is my “Why of FI.” More time for my family. More time for the things I love to do. More room to enjoy the simple pleasures of life. More choices. More room to breathe.

Searching for additional resources about financial independence led me to the ChooseFI community–all like-minds pursuing or already at financial independence. I already had my “Why of FI” and now I found my “how.”

From credit card rewards, to slashing expenses, to optimizing taxes, my family has turned marginal improvements in our finances over the last year into a big change for our future. These steps have put Mr. sureFIRE and I on a path to reclaim five or 10 extra years of freedom from having to work.

When your “Why” is crystal clear, taking steps in the right direction is more simple, and also exciting!

sureFIRE's "Why of FI"

Why Living In A High Cost Of Living Area Isn’t A Bad Thing

I am from a high cost of living (HCOL) area and I see that as neither a roadblock nor a bad thing when chasing FI. In fact, it has several positive elements. A few reasons why I believe this to be true are:

  • the higher earning potential
  • the higher rents (keep reading for my explanation)
  • and the local tax-payer funded services, entertainment, parks, and recreation programs.

Now, I've never proven that theory, but I have lived it successfully and I am certainly interested in hearing counter-arguments.

Higher earning potential

First, I am certain that my salary would be substantially lower in a low cost of living (LCOL) area. Not all industries are like that, of course, but many are. And if my salary was lower and my savings rate was the same, I would end up saving fewer dollars.

Secondly, in the northeast where I live, housing costs are relatively high. And while my mortgage payment doesn't go up, rent and real estate taxes do. Rent rates are reflective of current housing and tax and, therefore, adjust upward annually. If I were to rent out a portion of my house as an apartment or Airbnb, it would pay most of my mortgage. In a few years, it might pay all of it plus the real estate taxes. Without housing costs eating up a large portion of earnings here, I'd be free to save most of my relatively higher earnings in other investment vehicles.

Local services

Next, the parks and recreation programs and facilities are manned and offer alternatives to joining private clubs or paying duplicate memberships. As do our library systems, which are funded by our real estate taxes. I can take tennis and golf lessons, even guitar and piano lessons, for free or at a small cost.

We live near large bodies of water–including bays and the Atlantic Ocean–and as a result, there are beaches with lifeguards, marinas for parking and launching boats, and even campgrounds for boats, tents, and campers.

The free concerts and activities are a compelling reason to stick around town on any given evening. And the library programs are full of activities for all age groups. Plus, everything is a short walk, drive, or bike ride away.

How I spend

On top of that, I think I have more control over the amount of money I spend–or don't spend–than I do earn. Of course, I strive to earn as much as I can the traditional ways–through education, advanced training, experience, and an outstanding work ethic. But, beyond that, controllable spending is my ticket. As a result, I can save more of the higher income here than I would save in a LCOL area with lower wages. That means more dollars to compound, invest, and multiply.

What about you? Are you in a HCOLA trying to reach FI? If so, you can probably achieve desired results more from deliberate spending decisions than moving out of town, especially if you're in your higher earning years.

  • Can you grocery shop a bit smarter? Regional grocery stores are less expensive than the international section of supermarkets. Fresh ginger, bok choy, millet, and quinoa are pennies to the dollar at Patel Bros. and H&L Markets.
  • Produce and farmers markets offer discounted produce after a certain time period has elapsed.
  • Buying food as ingredients instead of prepared is a controllable expense. Oatmeal costs about $0.79/pound, yielding 16 servings. Add a half of banana for a quarter. Compare that to a package of instant oatmeal with 20 grams of added sugar at $0.50 per serving.
  • And in a land where neighbors keep up with the Joneses, you're more likely to score last year's furniture, fashions, toys, and recreation equipment at a bargain in a HCOLA. In fact, your neighbors will likely brag about how a perfectly good item is going to the curb. Last week I scored a set of dishes, glasses, and bowls for under $10 for my daughter's college house.
  • Like your tea in the morning? While coffee requires extra ‘work', the sheer act of boiling water and pouring it over a tea bag in your own recyclable cup is ridiculously easy and costs you pennies, literally. Also, add some hot water to a jar with oatmeal and maybe a few raisins. Cover it up and savor hot oatmeal at your desk with a short list of ingredients that you can pronounce.
  • Mind your investment expenses. While this may seem obvious, you’d be surprised how many high income people do not heed this.

Too often I hear my neighbors and co-workers complain about paying too much for “fill-in-the-blank” and not having enough money to retire as they fill their yards with toys, driveways with new cars, and pay for yearly “once-in-a-lifetime” vacations. At least some of us here in HCOL land buy discarded toys at yard sales or online, drive older cars, and gift our children with experiences to remember.